I remember that it was cold and raining very heavily that morning. So heavily, that when the taxi finally pulled up outside the the last station before I headed out into the wilderness towards Gijang, its windows were steamed up and I couldn’t see the driver. The wait had been so long that I’d begun to wonder if I was ever going to get to work, and I really didn’t rate the chances of the woman who’d arrived behind me to start a queue at the designated taxi point.
I got into the taxi and started to give the driver my destination in Korean as I always did. But before I could finish the driver, a woman probably in her 50s – who’d turned around and appeared to be looking at me in an odd way - thrust her arm out and suddenly I was staring at an outstretched hand being waved in front of my nose, accompanied by something in Korean I didn’t catch, followed by “No! No!”. Huh? Now she was pointing at the still open car door and while I might not have understood the accompanying Korean, when it comes down to it “Get out!” is a fairly universal concept in any language.
I got out slowly as if I were in a dream. What was happening? And why? Had her daughter dated a foreigner? Should I say it wasn’t me?
So I shut the car door and stood there back by the side of the road, in the now thoroughly appropriate pouring rain. The taxi with the steamed up windows stayed where it was, only adding to my sense of surreality. The woman who’d arrived behind me to form a queue stared at me and we shared a telepathic moment. “What was that?” “Beats the hell out of me.”
So the woman opened the passenger side door and started talking to the taxi driver. If body language told a story it began with confusion and ended with confusion, and the middle involved the woman gesturing towards me and asking what the problem was.
After she’d closed the door, we both resumed our spots by the side of the road, but not before the woman had given me a pitying look. After about 30 seconds, the taxi driver decided to leave.
I felt the woman had gone into bat for me but I was now late for work and I was only a few weeks into my new job, so I told her where I was going in Korean and asked her if she wanted to share the next taxi. But she wasn’t going my way.
When the next taxi came, the woman made a point of talking to the driver in a disgusted tone as I was getting and it was pretty obvious she was making sure he wasn’t going to refuse to take me as she explained where I was going.
I wish I could have told her it was unnecessary. I’d never been told to get out of a taxi before in Korea and statistically it hardly seemed likely to happen again immediately following my first time, and in fact I’d go on to make sure of it because after that I stopped taking taxis in Jangsan and opted for the bus instead.
In the brief time I’d begun my Civilisation to Gijang commute, I’d had one good notably good taxi experience and faced the minor frustration of watching taxis fly by me without stopping in the countryside. Now I’d had a notably bad experience, I wondered if it only evened things up, or whether it pushed Korea into negative territory with me. I settled on the latter, because the world should have a positive bias anyway, not a neutral one. When someone treats you badly, it can more than offset those random acts of kindness. I guess that psychology for you.
Anyway, if I was in any doubt those doubts were removed two days later. I’ll tell you that story next time.